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Aurora Borealis: A Nirvana Mixtape: 15 Essential B-Sides and Demos

on September 23, 2011, 12:00pm
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Three albums, one B-sides compilation, several live efforts: That’s Nirvana in a nutshell. If you were one of the material-starved fans in the fall of 2004 that ponied up 60-something bucks for With the Lights Out, the then long-gestating box set project, you probably already came to the conclusion that there’s nothing really left to salvage. Sure, there’s always a proper release of the oft-discussed Fecal Matter demo tape, but really, that’s not much. Some might feel it’s time to “let go,” others may opt to keep relistening to what’s out there. Granted, there will always be Nirvana-related items in the pipeline, whether it’s more live recordings or DVD releases or reissues, but it’s highly unlikely you’ll feel the same sense of awe and wonder as you did, say, in 2002 when “You Know You’re Right” hit the radio airwaves or in November ’04 when you first spun “Do Re Mi” or “Beans”.

Fortunately, there are plenty of demos to lose yourself in. Plenty. It’s almost as if Kurt Cobain never left a four-track recorder or a boombox for five years. Because of this, there’s so much to pick and choose from. This week, in light of all the Nirvana-related hoopla out there, Consequence of Sound dove into the proverbial boxes and assembled a mixtape of the B-sides and demos fans oughta hear. (We think it’s even better than 2005’s Sliver: The Best of the Box.) To make it special, we gave it a title (Aurora Borealis) and attempted to sequence it like a Nirvana album – aka, capitalizing on the whole “loud, soft, loud” thing. Convenience comes easy with us, so we’ve provided an online playlist to consult as you read our own personal liner notes.

Enjoy Aurora Borealis (via Spotify).

-Michael Roffman

Feature artwork by Project Gutenberg.

“I Hate Myself and Want to Die”

Recorded: 1993
Appears on: The Beavis & Butthead Experience, “Pennyroyal Tea” single

Though it was supposed to be a part of In Utero, “I Hate Myself and Want to Die” was nixed due to the fact that Cobain felt there were too many noise tracks in a row. The result was the song being placed as a B-side on “Pennyroyal Tea”, giving a pleasing contradiction to the single. A studio version of the song was also released on The Beavis & Butthead Experience. It’s arguably one of the most controversial songs that Nirvana has done, though the controversy didn’t start until after Cobain’s suicide, for obvious reasons. -Karina Halle

“Old Age”

Recorded: 1991
Appeared on: With the Lights Out

This one’s a Nevermind outtake and it really sounds stripped from that “era,” if you can even call it that. Recorded in California with Butch Vig, Dave Grohl’s drumming foreshadows the ensuing poppy sensibilities they’d unveil only a few months later. Cobain also spits out some savory lines, specifically: “One more doubt here to save my never” or “One more high here to find my nervous.” So apathetic, but that’s why you’re listening. -Michael Roffman


Recorded: 1992
Appeared on: “Lithium” single

Equal parts Stooges, Black Sabbath, and, um, Motörhead… this one’s a slight mess but an engaging one. Cobain is almost grating, the distortion ricochets in the air, and Krist Novoselic grinds hard on Grohl’s dinosaur-like stomps. The casual fans who picked up the “Lithium” single probably pissed their pants when they heard this one. Gross. -Michael Roffman


Recorded: 1993
Appeared on: No Alternative compilation (titled “Verse Chorus Verse”)

“Sappy” is a perfect Nirvana track. Behold “the formula”: a clean guitar introduction, a distorted mess of chaos, and lyrics stacked with slightly dirty imagery (“He’ll keep you in a jar”). Then, of course, there’s that whole poppy aura to it thanks to Mr. Cobain. No wonder it was once titled “Verse Chorus Verse”. All in all, this song sounds like it should have been on Incesticide, but in hindsight, it’s better off as the loner track. -Ted Maider


Recorded: 1987
Appeared on: With the Lights Out

This prototype for a prototype for Nirvana songs sounds more like a Pissed Jeans track or something that might barely fit on Incesticide. But the pre-Grohl days had their moments, and this mid-tempo sludgefest is one of them. -Jeremy D. Larson

“Endless Nameless” – 1991 Radio Appearance

Recorded: 1991
Appeared on: With the Lights Out

Want to know what hell sounds like? Here’s a quick taste. This one’s for the teenage rockers who always lie to Guitar Center and tell them their pedal came broken – three times a month. Although it would pop up as a secret track at the end of Nevermind, this eight-minute-plus rendition with John Peel is bottled madness. Sigh, still fresh after all these years. -Michael Roffman

“Oh the Guilt”

Recorded: 1992
Appeared on: The Jesus Lizard/Nirvana split 7″ single: “Puss”/”Oh, The Guilt”

While splitting a 7″ single between these names seems like a surefire coattail benefit, “Puss”/”Oh, the Guilt” rounds out like a friendly partnership as opposed to a pragmatic one, adding a certain warmth to what can only be described as pure Nirvana punk circa ’92. “Oh, the Guilt” charges in on lighter clicks and buzzing guitars, then the drums tackle Bleach vibes right to the bank. It’s basic, it’s loud, and it oddly includes a guitar solo moment by Cobain, something rarely seen in the genre it emulates so well. -David Buchanan

“Clean Up Before She Comes”

Recorded: 1988
Appeared on: With the Lights Out

This acoustic, four-track recording dates back to ’87 or ’88, and over 20 years later it remains just as gloomy and menacing. Cobain’s zombie-like whisper haunts you, especially on the chorus when he harmonizes with himself. It’s like a creepy prayer chant that’s become a golden relic years later. -Michael Roffman

“Do Re Mi”

Recorded: 1994
Appears on: With the Lights Out

Cobain recorded “Do Re Mi” at home on a boom box in early 1994, making this one of the last tracks created under the Nirvana moniker. It’s rough but quite charming. Cobain sounds nasally, but it’s the simplicity that counts. It’s almost mind-numbing. It would have been nice to have an album filled with songs like this. -Michael Roffman

“Verse Chorus Verse”

Recorded: 1991
Appeared on: With the Lights Out

Even though “Verse Chorus Verse” posts up some rather overt lyrics about anti-depressants and their questionable efficiency, you can’t help but think the title is a little self-effacing wink at this rather inconsequential song. Or all their songs. Or all songs. –Jeremy D. Larson 

“Scentless Apprentice – Rehearsal Demo”

Recorded: 1992
Appeared on: With the Lights Out

This oddity dates back to winter of 1992 at a band practice somewhere in Seattle, WA. At over nine minutes, it’s a runny, yet adrenalized, take on arguably one of the heaviest cuts in the band’s repertoire. Cobain must not have written lyrics yet either because he only unintelligibly screams here and there. But, we all know how it would end up sounding. Thanks to Damon Lindelof, this song will forever be Jack Shepard’s anthem. “We have to get back to the island, Kate…” Oy fuck vey. -Michael Roffman

“Here She Comes Now”

Recorded: 1990
Appeared on: Nirvana/Melvins split 7″ single: “Here She Comes Now/Venus in Furs”

A Velvet Underground cover, Nirvana punched this track out at Madison, WI’s Smart Studios prior to recording Nevermind. It’s soft and melodic, though Cobain chants again like some punkish monk, and Krist Novoselic’s bass line sounds like a lightsaber. It’s cerebral, what can we say? -Michael Roffman

“Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol Flow Through the Strip”

Recorded: 1993
Appeared on: In Utero (non-US pressings)

Paranoid and jittery, this B-side of the final pre-In Utero recording sessions finds Cobain channeling his unsung hero Frank Black, especially when he screams out, “She’s only been five months late, even though we haven’t had sex for a week…” It recalls Pixies cut “Hey” and possibly a psycho hallucinogenic bathtub experience. One or the other. Food for thought: Could you imagine this listed before “All Apologies”? Hilarious.  -Michael Roffman 

“You Know You’re Right”

Recorded: 1994
Appeared on: Nirvana

Just months before its public release, Rolling Stone did a story on the nutty lawsuits of the post-Cobain world, with this song as the main focus. “You Know You’re Right” was seen in the Nirvana camp as a great (and very successful) track. As a result, Courtney Love, Grohl, and Novoselic spent plenty of time with their lawyers to see its release. It could have all been a marketing ploy to sell their “greatest hits compilation,” but whatever the case, it worked. This song picks up right where Cobain left us hanging: angry, fucked up, but able to see logic through rock ‘n’ roll. -Ted Maider


Recorded: 1993
Appeared on: “Heart-Shaped Box” single

Originally released on Dave Grohl’s now out-of-print cassette, Pocketwatch, under the title “Color Pictures of a Marigold”, this “Heart-Shaped Box” B-side was a hint of things to come and things that never would. While listeners eventually got to hear the near flawless discography of Grohl’s stadium rock monster, Foo Fighters, they would never be exposed to a proper Nirvana song with him on lead, a prospect that Cobain was vocally excited about before he took his own life in 1994. -Dan Caffrey

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